HAVING SPENT MY YOUTH wishing I could distance myself from my ethnic origins and meld seamlessly into the free-spirited ways of the American culture, I find it interesting that I should now come to write THE FIG ORCHARD.
Looking back, I realize that as a first generation Arab American, it’s a story I’ve carried inside me most days of my life—the culmination of an upbringing rich in culture, foods, and strong familial love.
I was only eleven months old when my grandmother, Sitti Mariam, came from Palestine to America to live with us. Our family was large, our home was small, and so for many years she shared a bedroom with my sister and me. Sitti left Palestine in 1951, emigrating from a then-small Christian, West Bank town called Ramallah. And although happy to be reunited with her family, America remained an anomaly as she mourned the life she had left behind — her heart forever in the “old country.”
A respected midwife in Ramallah, Mariam came to America unable to speak English. She could neither read nor write. She never learned to tell time or dial a telephone. And yet, this amazing woman, by virtue of her quiet strength and loving ways, managed to gently weave herself into the delicate tapestry of our lives. For that, I am forever grateful.
As I recall the stories she shared with me, there were three events that shaped her life.
In 1917, as war raged throughout the world, Mariam’s husband was forcibly taken from his orchard by Turkish soldiers to fight against invading British troops. She was pregnant with her third child. He never returned.
Declared a widow, Mariam, rather than remarry and relinquish her children to her husband’s family, learned the art of midwifery at a convent in Jerusalem (Al Quds). Returning to Ramallah, she raised her three children, supporting and educating them on what she earned as a midwife.
Mariam never remarried, maintaining an undying belief that one day her husband would find his way back to her. I recall her asking me to polish only the small fingernail of her left hand, explaining that it was the finger she’d entwined with his at their wedding ceremony and if he should walk through the door, she wanted him to see that she had remained faithful.
THE FIG ORCHARD is a novel that tells the story of a woman’s life, within a time and culture. Although inspired by my grandmother’s life, it remains a work of fiction.
As I sat down to write this book, I realized that the time we spend with our loved ones is precious and fleeting. I regret that in my youth I did not ask more questions of the elders and record the details of their lives. I was young and ready to make my own way in the world, not wanting to linger in the wistful shadows of the past. Sadly, those who came before me are now gone and I can only pray that it was through their heavenly guidance that this book finally came to be written.